Thursday, January 3, 2013

For All the Saints

It is too easy for Internet evangelists to forget that there are parts of the world where connectivity is a major problem. When Britain wished to imprison Napoleon at the most remote location in the world, they had just the place, the island of Saint Helena, whose closest continental coastline lies near the border between Namibia and Angola. Today Saint Helena is Britain's second oldest colony, the oldest being Bermuda. While the latter has the makings of a tropical paradise, the former, thanks to the world the Internet has made, may be more remote than it was in Napoleon's day.

The residents, known as Saints, are now trying to change matters. They have formed a campaign group called A Human Right, which is trying to get the island included in plans to lay broadband cable under the South Atlantic. They have received the blessing of the United Nations, but they have yet to get a response from the United Kingdom. What Internet evangelists never seem to realize (but which the British government knows full well) is that connectivity comes at a stiff price. The current investment seems to be in the neighborhood of £10 million. Those evangelists can talk about that kind of money casually when they can tie it to an appropriate return-on-investment; but when it involves giving about 4000 people (roughly the population of the island) the opportunity to connect to the global vision they promote and exploit without any viable ROI estimates, those evangelists would prefer to stick to their pulpits and readymade sermons, rather than confront the harsh realities of isolation.

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